MY STORY - PART 1
My name is Marc, and I have to start with a confession. For all the ways that I have claimed to be true to Scripture in my life, there is amazingly one glaring way that I have not. I have not really made disciples! Don't get me wrong, I've done much teaching, preaching, writing, planning, and working to pass on information about God to others. And for a good chunk of my spiritual journey, that is what I thought I was supposed to do. I was told it was good and right. In fact, I have been hired, ordained, paid, and given gifts to do these very things. The approval and wisdom of men fueled my pursuit to become more and more religious, while convincing myself that I was doing it all "for Jesus" and being "obedient to God." But again, for the most part, I have refelected upon my ministry over the past decade and a half, and I have honestly discovered that I made no disciples of Christ! It's an embarrassing confession, really. I am ashamed of it, but to overcome this reality and walk a new path, I have to explore what happened. In short, I feel like I became two people in one life to an extent, not necessarily in a malicious, deceptive, hypocritical way. (Although one does not have to look long or hard to see hypocrisy spill out of me.)
On the one hand, I never lost my sincerity. I did not intentionally do things that I knew were fruitless. I genuinely believed in my purpose and practices. Indeed, I was always the first student of my own teachings. I only passed them on because I considered them valuable. I never set out to lead anyone astray, and I would have strongly resented any accusation even implying that I ever did so. Sincere and genuine devotion was always present.
On the other hand, part of me got caught up making my own rules for living a "Christian" life and preaching the gospel. I became convinced that discipleship could be measured by a list of do's and don'ts (at the same time giving lip service to it never being about that). Even worse, I bought into all these splits in life - the sacred and the secular, the good churchgoers and the bad sinners, church and work and play, etc. I even adhered to my own "checklist" of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus - a list that I have since discovered, and should have known all along, is not even found in the Bible! Anywhere!! Nevertheless, slowly and subtly, I preached a different gospel than the real, true good news. Mind you, my self-righteousness and counsel from many other Christians validated everything I was doing in Jesus' name. But the Spirit began making me aware that something was wrong. I had no idea how to figure it out.
Then, one day I realized I had been going through religious motions for so long that I was not actually growing closer to my Savior but farther away from Him! How could this be?! What is going on!? Jesus is my Lord and Savior! Why am I going somewhere else?? Suddenly, Paul's struggle of doing what he doesn't want to do, and not doing what he does want to do became real to me. Suddenly, I embraced the identity of the Ephesian church that had forsaken its first love. Gradually, verses describing Pharisees as "whitewashed tombs" and condemning them for diligently studying the Scriptures while missing the whole point about Jesus became like mirrors that gave me chills as I looked into them.
One day, I was at a conference about understanding church differently. I was there because I thought if I could just tweak a couple things here and there, then I could clear my head, get out of this funk and past all this inner turmoil. That was, at least, until we were quietly gathered in a room and the presenters asked me, "Why are you here?" God would not let me lie to myself or others any longer. He knew the root of my problem and He was digging in the dirt. Suddenly, all the safe answers about programs and strategy and "getting other people on board" fled my mind. My heart pounded and tears filled my eyes. I could only get three words out of my mouth. "I miss Jesus!"Since that time, I have been on an awkward and uncomfortable, yet liberating and exciting journey of rediscovering my first Love. Jesus is faithful and patient. He is loving and gentle and still powerful and convicting.
From the outside, I think many people just think that I am trying to "do church" in different ways and different places than I used to. I think most others think the only thing that significantly changed was what I do on Sunday mornings. I am often misunderstood and judged accordingly, to which I am finally just starting to grow accustomed. This will always be the case as long as people believe my only changes are in my outward practices.
What is happening with me is happening to me and in me. It is not a change of strategy or plans; it is a change of heart. It is a spiritual renewal. I am becoming re-acquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel is simple and supernatural and senseless all at the same time. It is a foolish message only told through the cross and Resurrection. It cannot be explained, although that was what I spent most of my 'ministry' trying to do. The Bible actually teaches that it defies human reason and we can only believe it as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us (1 Corinthians 1-2, Galatians 1). It is a gospel that changes everything! It is good news about grace and freedom and new life. It can be summed up in one name - Jesus. My conscience is telling me that it is time for me to respond to this gospel like I have not before.
MY STORY - PART 2
According to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), the beginning step of making disciples is baptizing them. In our churches, we usually replace this method with the "sinner's prayer" or an altar call or having people do their "ABC's" (Admit-Believe-Confess/Choose/Commit). That's not right or wrong, but maybe there is something important about baptism that I missed before. Baptism seems to be the primary way people were expected to respond to the gospel in the New Testament. Just about anyone who wanted to follow Jesus was immediately baptized. Baptism with water is usually associated with repentance and forgiveness. It represents a change of mind, which I have had. I accept Jesus' forgiveness and salvation. I want to be baptized!
Baptism also represents our burial with Jesus because a new life cannot begin until an old life ends. Baptism is death, which is the entrance to a new and empowered life made possible through faith in Christ.
Most importantly, believers are baptized into Jesus! This is the reason I was recently baptized. I was originally baptized when I was about 12 years old in the Catholic Church, years before accepting Christ. I had debated, but avoided, being baptized again for several reasons. Almost all of them were related to what I thought it would communicate to others and what I feared they might think about me. I won't expand on that here, but for me there were a couple reasons why I wanted to be baptized again.
First, as I said, I wanted to make the statement loud and clear that I am uniting with Jesus, not a church. I feel like I was first baptized "into the church," which is often what is taught. People being baptized into different churches could cause divisions in the long run in some cases. The Bible is emphatic that baptism is always INTO JESUS and is intended to bring unity to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:13-17, 12:13). This time, my baptism was not a pledge of a good conscience toward the church, but toward God (1 Peter 3:21). It's not that I have a problem with the church. I love the church! But I want my baptism to tell others about Jesus alone!! It is His death and Resurrection that I am responding to, and that is what can empower me or anyone else to live a new life of freedom! It has to be all about Him.
Like so many others, I have become good at telling people about a "substitute," whether it is a great Bible study, fun program, entertaining church service, or inspirational sermon, always wishing that people might find these things attractive. How about wishing they might be attracted to Jesus? It has become the norm for us to invite friends or neighbors to church, but rarely do we invite them to Christ. Just a quick scan of the Bible makes it obvious that this is not how disciples of Christ are to go about their mission, yet we actually pretend it is right. It's much safer to tell others about our church or small group or youth pastor or worship band than it is to tell people about Jesus. In fact, I am convinced that most of us could go on and on about our churches and programs, whether they are in buildings or houses or coffee shops, but we would have trouble filling even two minutes sharing about the Lord. It is crazy to admit, but we have almost been trained not to share the gospel! Still in the end, we all know it is not the church that saves. Only Jesus saves!!!
I wanted to be baptized to tell my friends and family that salvation is found in one Name. "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). I want my daughters to be clear that "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). In fact, I share these things "to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13).
The other reason I wanted to be baptized again is to remind myself and everyone else that this is what we are commanded to do. We are supposed to be making disciples by baptizing and teaching people (Matthew 28:19-20). If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission, we all have to become "baptizers." Unfortunately, many of us have believed that baptizing is to be left to pastors and priests, those that are "certified" or "qualified" in some way. But Jesus told His followers to baptize. He never gave the order to clergy or people with titles. In fact, He even had His disciples do His baptizing for Him, but it counted as though He was doing it (John 3-4). Remember, Jesus said all authority had been given to Him, not church leaders, and He is with us always (Matthew 28:18-20). Let's see His faithfulness in action by baptizing one another. So, I have been baptized this time with and by my friends and family - those that have played a part in my journey.
My last comment is that I don't have an explanation for what all this means theologically. People will ask, "Does this mean Marc was never saved before?," or "Is he trying to promote believers' baptism or immersion only?," or "So is he saying that baptism saves you?" I realize that questions will come up and I respect that. The human side of me is worried what people will think and wonder about me, but a larger part of me doesn't care anymore.
I am more than happy to share my story with anyone. But my real hope is that my baptism isn't about the water, whether I go under it or have it poured on me, or when or where. My hope is that everyone will focus on what it means. I've told you what it means to me. What does it mean to you? So, it's not about when, where, or how, but it is all about Who! Who is it pointing to? Who is getting glory?
This baptism is about me wrestling with the question, Who is Jesus to me?
And I pray it allows you to consider, Who is Jesus to you?
PART 3 - BETTER TOGETHER
In a desire to see "how much greater" we can make the world for the next generation, a small group of friends and I have been on a journey. This journey has been a transition from an institutional (organized) church structure to an organic, simple church mindset. It has been profound and radical in the nature of the metamorphosis that several of us have gone through. A brief summary of our progression in recent years is what follows.
114Church was “launched” in 2007ish essentially as my idea. Later, I revised that plan and “re-launched” a simple church network (okay, potential network – no need to network when there is only one church group!) under the name of Unveiled Community, based on a theme developed through 2 Corinthians 3-4. I had really done a lot of work to ensure that both were guided by Biblical principles and an emphasis on simple and reproducible expressions of the church. It wasn’t a bad start, and in fact, it was probably a healthy, necessary step for me to go through on my own journey of figuring out this thing we call “church.”
The only problem with where we were is that I had done all the work myself. I was used to that, and frankly, I kind of liked it that way. (Okay, not “kind of,” I liked it that way.) You know the old saying, “If you want something done right, then do it yourself!” One huge problem with that – what I was coming up with wasn’t right. Sure, it was theologically correct, doctrinally sound. It had the right words and sufficient scriptural support as far as what was on paper. The theory was good. BUT I had missed the key element to how the body of Christ functions effectively. The body must work together!
See, what was wrong about the process I used was that it was not communal and collaborative, and therefore, it fell short of what God could make it. To make it right, our vision had to be formed by seeking God together and searching the scriptures as individual parts of the body that could bring our revelations together. That brings much more glory to the Spirit of God, and it produces a more practical vision that people have desire to see through.
Another vast improvement was that we were responding to more and more of God’s revealed will in Scripture with each revision. 114Church was founded primarily on the message of a single verse, John 1:14. While this is a rich, incredible presentation of the gospel message in only one sentence, it is still only one sentence. The next step to Unveiled Community was based on a broader conversation that Paul has with the church of Corinth in one of his letters to them. But now, the whole Bible was fair game! We simply posed a question: What does it mean or take to make disciples? Then, everyone went to work, individually and collectively, searching various books of the Bible, teachings of Jesus, instructions from Paul, and other resources. What was shared as a result of this process has been much more powerful than anything I came up with in the past.
So, our third run at this gives me much more confidence that we have honored the Word and each other. Now, we have a simple mission. We can rally around it, take action with it, and be held accountable to it. This is a brief summary of how we developed our purpose and plan as a church. Actually, I think discovered would be a more accurate term than developed. It was set by God a long time ago and before our eyes all along. Sometimes, all we have to do to see something obvious is open our eyes.